NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION h 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612

(510) 763-1533 Fax (510) 763-6186 h Email Address: [email protected] h

Edited by Jeremy Russell

August 7, 2000


Meet us in Aspen, Colorado for a program packed with opportunities to listen, learn, ask questions and gather information for industry business persons. The business sessions feature detailed agendas with speakers focusing their efforts to strengthen NMA activities on behalf of its members.

NMA’s committee meetings and board meetings are open to all members just to attend, but if you haven’t made arrangements yet, you’d better call NMA’s office NOW to be included There are some spill-over locations within walking distance of the host hotel, the St. Regis. There are lots of problems in the meat business, but this is one time when you can be involved in working with your competitors and others to develop the strategies to solve them. Don't miss Friday's keynote spearkers:

Former Senator Hank Brown, president of the University of Northern Colorado since 1998, will address attendees of NMA's Summer Board Meeting and Conference as keynote speaker. Brown served Colorado in the U.S. Senate from 1990 to 1997 and was the congressional representative from 1980 to 1990. Brown will discuss politics and education from his perspective as a recently retired Senator and president of a major university.

John Simons, the president of ConAgra Red Meat, is this year's featured speaker on the industry panel at NMA's Summer Board Meeting and Conference. John's group has all the raw meat operations, including their slaughter, further processing, grinding, and the cow slaughter plant in Nebraska, as well as their hog slaughter plants and the lamb slaughter. Simons will speak with a group of experts on the topic of "Meat Marketing in the New Millennium."


We encourage members to read the Monthly Meat Lookout enclosed with this week’s newsletter. Steve Kay, CBW's renowned marketer/business analyst, doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the months ahead for either producers, packers or processors. The bottom line is that there will be an abundance of beef, and no shortage of competing meat and poultry proteins, the like of which the industry hasn’t seen in many decades.

The USDA/AMS commodity program, which is designed to pick up large supplies during the fall herd culling, isn’t helping to stabilize this glut since the new purchase specifications have scared off many vendors from the bidding process. NMA and cooperating organizations wrote to Kathleen Merrigan, Administrator of AMS last week, urging her to hold a vendors conference and revise the specifications (see Herd on the Hill). AMS has traditionally set quality standards for its meat -- freshness and meat color, psychrotrophic counts designed to assure good keeping qualities while frozen, and meat piece size -- while it has relied on FSIS to assure product safety. With the introduction of non-ambulatory livestock exclusion and microbiological end-product testing, AMS is now overlapping the jurisdiction of FSIS in its requirements, a wasteful use of government resources.

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Process Validation Seminar

FSIS Denver District Office Inspection Coordinator Cindy Southard will be on-hand as the luncheon speaker at NMA’s "Process Validation for Controlling Pathogens in RTE Products Seminar," Wednesday, August 16 in Denver, CO. Southard will provide updates on pending Listeria regulations, sampling of RTE product, and process validation as it relates to HACCP.

In addition, seminar participants will receive instruction from processing experts Robert Rust of Rust & Associates, Robert Savage of the HACCP Consulting Group and Robert Hanson of Alkar on developing and implementing Process Validation systems. Discussion topics will include, Principles of Process Lethality/Stabilization, Time/Temperature Data Collection, Validation of Batch & Continuous Ovens Validating Lethality Processes for Dry & Semi-Dry Products, and Environmental Control/Monitoring of Listeria. Enrollment is limited. Those interested in attending this one-day event should contact Teresa Frey, NMA Manager of Technical & Educational Services.


NMA Director Jim Maxey, Fresno Beef, will be speaking at the Country Meatworks Association of New South Wales' 2000 Convention and Trade Exhibition. The CMA event will be held in Canberra, Australia on September 9-12. This year CMA expects many new and interesting thing for its delegates. For more information contact CMA at (61 2) 9438 5144.


Following up its appearance on the NMA teleconference about OSHA new national ergonomics proposal, NMA consultant Phillips & Altman Consulting has released a packet of comments and highlights on the proposed ergonomic standard. This packet is available to NMA members. Send a self addressed/stamped (77¢) envelope to Jeremy Russell at NMA-West for a copy.


Researchers have created a robot that is fueled on meat. "The ideal fuel in terms of energy gain is meat. Vegetation is not nearly as nutritious," said one of the inventors. "Changing food into electricity isn't unique. What I've done is to make it small enough to fit in a robot." Dubbed Chew Chew the "gastrobot," the robot runs on a microbial fuel cell, which breaks down food with bacteria and converts it into electrical energy.


NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow was an invited guest of the Live Cattle Marketing Council and Feeder Council at last week's NCBA meetings in Denver. She provided an update on Salmonella Standards and their implications for packer costs and concentration. While NMA members are very well briefed on this subject, and especially the implications on the new school lunch specifications, much of this was new to the livestock producers in the audience. They expressed interest and made provocative input.

NMA, joined by SMA and TAMU, also presented a Salmonella research proposal to a beef safety subcommittee of the Cattlemen's Beef Board, but they did not accept it. NMA is researching other ways to get a unified industry support for the needed research.

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E. coli 0157:H7 has been found in cattle at a farm near Walkerton, Ontario, where six people were recently died from complications of E. coli 0157:H7 infection. Investigators are searching the farm's soil daily and will dig test wells on the property of David Biesenthal where the E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria was found. "I know this could potentially be the origin of the problem," said Biesenthal "But what can I do about it? Go out and shoot my cows?" Biesenthal said he has followed all farming guidelines rigorously. He said that he didn't even know there was a well so close to his property that provided the town with its drinking water until the outbreak struck the community of 5,000 in late May. Biesenthal admitted that his farm could be the source. "But how did it get from here to the well?" he added, "I didn't take a bucket of manure from here and throw it down the well." Investigators found the E. coli strain a few weeks ago after taking fecal samples from Biesenthal's cows. They have been conducting DNA tests to see if they can trace the bacteria back to the herd. However, they say they may never know with certainty the origins of the contaminated water that caused nearly half of the town to fall ill. They have also found the E. coli 0157:H7 strain in other cows in the area, The Globe and Mail reported August 4.


A second Sizzler in Wisconsin was shut down after two people who ate there became infected with E. coli 0157:H7. Eschenbach and Boysa Management Company voluntarily closed the Sizzler in the suburb of Wauwatosa. The company last week closed its Milwaukee Sizzler, the only other Sizzler in Wisconsin, which is believed to be the source of the outbreak that has left 49 people ill, including 26 children. One 3-year-old girl died from E. coli 0157:H7 complications. The food that actually made people sick, at least those who ate at the Sizzler in Milwaukee, was watermelon served on the salad bar, however, "genetic fingerprints" from E. coli 0157:H7 found in a meat sample taken at the restaurant match the fingerprints of the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria found in infected patrons of both restaurants. USDA and the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection are tracing the source of the tainted meat.


The Los Angeles Times made a host of factual errors in two separate articles published last week. In one, an editorial on the Texas Litigation, the Times found itself in the position of contradicting reality when it claimed that food safety experts "consider the Salmonella test an accurate and effective regulatory tool." The only groups that consider it accurate are consumer activists and, as for its effectiveness, even FSIS Administrator Tom Billy admitted under oath that the most sanitary plant in the world could fail the standard. In an article on the E. coli 0157:H7 linked to Sizzler (see above), the Times stated that "the illness is spread by eating undercooked or spoiled meats, or food that has been contaminated by those products." This is both wrong and dangerous. E. coli 0157:H7 has been traced to fruits and vegetables, juices and dairy products. It can be waterborne, both in drinking water and in swimming water. And it can travel through person-to-person contact. It does live in the digestive track of animals, including cattle, but is not in meat unless meat has become contaminated during or after slaughter. Furthermore, E. coli 0157:H7 contamination has nothing to do with spoilage. Meat is spoiled by other microorganisms entirely.

There were other errors in both of these articles and NMA wrote letters attempting to alleviate this outbreak of ignorance the day it began. Unfortunately, an outbreak like this is quick to spread and difficult to trace to its source.

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Officials from USDA are visiting cow slaughter plants across the country to ascertain whether the onsite USDA veterinarians are following agency guidelines for the monitoring of residues. They are also determining whether the disparity in the level of testing between plants is appropriate. A report on the survey is expected in early September.

Supervisory veterinary medical officers in slaughter facilities are professionals. They are the highest qualified individuals in the FSIS in-plant field force. While it is politically popular to suggest that the inspection program has moved away from the "poke and sniff" inspection techniques, veterinarians are responsible for ensuring that the livestock entering slaughter plants are fit for the food supply.

The role of the veterinarian is somewhat similar to that of the medical doctor who has a variety of tests -- of eyes, ears, mouth, and other body parts -- to determine whether further laboratory testing may be necessary. Ante- and postmortem inspection techniques are used to make determinations about pathology and animal disease. Although they may be misunderstood and under-appreciated at times, veterinarians continue to provide a very important role in the inspection program. NMA supports the active role of veterinarians in the FSIS program.


In a letter to the five meat industry associations who requested an extension on the comment period for Other Consumer Protection (OCP) activities, FSIS said it was tentatively planning to hold a public meeting this fall "to solicit further comments and facilitate an exchange of information on OCPs."


NMA - East: 1400 - 16th St. N.W., Suite 400, Washington D.C. 20036 Ph. (202) 667-2108

NMA - West: 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612 Ph. (510) 763-1533 Fax (510) 763-6186

Edited by Jeremy Russell

August 7, 2000


Last week two recalls made national news. Jac Pac Foods voluntarily recalled over 200,000 pounds after USDA tested for and found E. coli 0157:H7 on July 11. Then on July 31, Moyer Packing voluntarily recalled two huge loads of beef, first over 300,000 pounds and then, a few days later, over a quarter million pounds. Scenes like these can be disheartening, but is it any surprise that we are seeing recall after recall? Jesus said it best when he gave his sermon on the mount: "Seek and ye shall find." … "Knock and the door shall open." If you test for pathogens then you will find them. And the more sensitive your test, then the more you will find. "We started using a more sensitive test that was announced last September," Carol Blake of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) told reporters last week. "It's four times more sensitive than tests we had previously used and it can detect much lower levels of E. coli than our previous tests could do." With a sensitive enough test you discover microorganisms everywhere. What would happen we wonder, if you were to test the orchards and fields with equal doggedness. Would we see crop recalls and harvest stoppages? People have been sickened by sprouts, watermelons, strawberries and cantaloupes. Water has been recently declared the cause of the largest E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in North America. There is one crucial difference between all of these vectors and the vector that is occasionally meat. Meat can be made safe through cooking! Rare hamburgers are history. It's a lot more difficult to remove this pathogen from lettuse and bean sprouts. Furthermore, irradiation, approved by the USDA last year, is now being used at a handful of meat-processing plants and will soon be more widely available in both food service and retail distribution.


USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Kathleen Merrigan responded last week to a June 19 letter from NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow asking that the Agency put on hold its controversial new food safety standard. The standard is keeping good product from being purchased and is likely to contribute to a meat glut in coming months. Merrigan responded that "USDA takes very seriously its obligation to purchase only the highest quality products for distribution through its food and nutrition program." … "We recognize that end item testing of ground meat and ground poultry products may not fully ensure that all product is free of pathogenic bacteria. However, it can provide greater assurance of product quality on an interim basis for the current purchase program while we complete the development of a supplier certification and audit program for the purchase program beginning in July 2001."

August 1, eight trade associations wrote a letter to Merrigan expressing grave concerns about the standard. Merrigan has yet to respond to this joint letter. The letter asked her to reconsider the changes and then "arrange another Vendor Conference similar to the annual one held in the spring to discuss how AMS might modify the specifications." … "Very large supplies of beef are coming to market and the agency's purchases to date under the commodity program have been minimal and bought at very high prices. Thus, it is imperative that this issue be resolved in the interests of maintaining the market structure for beef and to provide the beef that the schools need." USDA will soon start purchasing ground poultry with such end product testing standards.

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NMA has recently revised its popular resource, "Appeals – What They Are and How to Use Them." Developed by NMA’s Regulatory Staff, this resource helps plant management determine which Noncompliance Report can be appealed. It also describes the actual appeal process and even provides a sample appeal letter. If you are interested in receiving a copy of this resource, please send a self-addressed/stamped (33¢) envelope to Denise Bridges at NMA-West


FSIS made the January 1st to March 31st Quarterly Regulatory and Enforcement Report available to the public last week. This report provides a summary of the regulatory and enforcement actions taken nationwide, including those under the Pathogen Reduction/HACCP regulations, and provides a national summary of Noncompliance Reports and appeals. A copy of this report can be accessed on the web at


U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha found that, in the case of 350 sheep possibly infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), "the threat of harm to the public and to commerce if the plaintiffs were allowed to keep these sheep is substantial." USDA tried to seize their flocks of dairy sheep after four animals tested positive earlier this month for a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE), either BSE or scrapie. "Their destruction," Murtha said, "will greatly reduce the possibility that humans and domestic animals will be exposed to a contagion not presently endemic in the United States." The flock's owner may appeal as late as today.


The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Livestock and Seed Program has clarified its guidelines for slaughter facilities that process less than 50 head of market lambs per week. Under the U.S. sheep industry's 201 Trade Action Adjustment Program, slaughter lambs marketed from 8/1/2000 to 7/31/2002 having a yield grade 2 ... 55- to 75-pound carcass of average choice or better muscle conformation ... may qualify for payments of $5 to $8 per head. Slaughter facilities that process less than 50 market lambs per week are eligible to certify the requirements of the Lamb Carcass portion of the Lamb Meat Adjustment Assistance Program without the need for an AMS representative to perform these activities provided they meet AMS guidelines.

Trichinae-Free Pork

Starting this summer, an innovative program to certify pigs right on the farm as free of trichinosis-causing worms is going through a 2-year pilot study. "The national certification program for trichinae-free pork is expected to be a model for controlling other foodborne pathogens, including some bacteria, at the source of infection," said H. Ray Gamble, a parasitologist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). NPPC is encouraging pork producers to volunteer for certification by having their operations audited by an APHIS-accredited veterinarian. Using a standardized checklist, the veterinarians will be looking for practices that would prevent a herd's exposure to infected rodents or wildlife or to raw garbage. Participating packing plants will keep certified pigs separate from non certified pigs and follow a protocol developed with FSIS.